Summary: When Henry arrives at Riverview in September of 1939, he is six years old, and has been deaf from an illness since the age of 3. His parents have been advised to institutionalize him, and after he failed the admissions test for the state school for the deaf (he refused to blow out candles when an administrator tried to communicate that instruction to him), he’s been placed at the Riverview Home for the Feebleminded. Unable to communicate or to understand what is happening to him, Henry tries to make friends and survive his days there, witnessing the abuse that other boys suffer for minor infractions. His family tries to visit him once a year, but is not always able to afford the bus fare. After World War II starts, a conscientious objector named Victor is assigned to Riverview, and befriends Henry. Victor reaches out to Henry’s family, and is instrumental in convincing them that their son belongs at home. Henry’s older sister learns about sign language, and after five years at Riverview, Henry is finally able to come home again and begin to learn to read, write, and speak. Includes notes on the poetic forms used in this novel in verse; a lengthy author’s note about the boy in her husband’s family who inspired this story, as well as poems written by another family member about this boy. 272 pages; grades 4-7.
Pros: Both Henry’s story and Victor’s were fascinating, and the intersection of their lives was a great relief after the first part of the story at Riverview. Helen Frost’s poetry brings the story to life, and the back matter makes it even more poignant.
Cons: I would have been interested in learning more about how Victor became a conscientious objector. It sounded pretty simple from the story, but as a Quaker, I know this is not always an easy process.
Summary: These thirty brief poems celebrate all different things you might see in the air: the sun, butterflies, leaves, birds, and more. Each poem is just four lines: “Sunflower, standing/taller than me,/what do you see/ that I can’t see?” and is accompanied by an illustration. Most pages contain two related poems (sunflowers and honeybees) that can be shown in the same picture. 40 pages; ages 3-8.
Pros: A good first poetry book, with short rhyming poems that describe everyday topics. The illustrations show a diverse group of kids enjoying the outdoors.
Cons: This felt like a celebration of nature, yet a few of the subjects (kites, balloons, helicopters, paragliding, and fireworks) were about human-made objects.
Published by Nancy Paulsen Books (Released September 1)
Summary: ZJ can remember “before the ever after” when his NFL star dad was a football star, and he and his parents lived a happy life in suburban Maplewood. But his father has started having severe headaches, memory lapses, and irrational behavior that have put an end to his football career. Doctors are baffled by his case, and by similar cases of some of his NFL teammates. 12-year-old ZJ finds support from his mom and three close friends, as he tries to enjoy his dad’s more lucid moments, and worries when things start to fall apart. A crisis near the end of the story results in Dad being admitted to the hospital, with the hope that he’ll get the care he needs, but nothing guaranteed. 176 pages; grades 4-8.
Pros: This novel in verse by superstar Jacqueline Woodson will appeal to fans of Kwame Alexander and K. A. Holt. Set in the early 2000’s when doctors were just beginning to understand the effects of multiple concussions for NFL players, there’s no happy ending, but ZJ’s voice hits just the right note between hope and despair. An awards contender, for sure.
Cons: It seemed surprising that none of the four 12-year-old boys in the story had any crushes or mention of romance.
Summary: What does it mean to be woke? Mahogany Browne answers this question in her introduction: awake, eyes open, seeing everything around you. Sometimes what you see will seem unfair, and it’s important to speak up about that. The two dozen poems by three different writers explore this concept, looking at such topics as community, empathy, gender, immigration, equality, and more. Each poem gets its own two-page spread with a colorful illustration. Includes a poem and foreword by Jason Reynolds. 56 pages; grades 3-8.
Pros: Add this book to your Black Lives Matter reading lists, or any social justice collection. Each poem is worthy of individual attention and discussion. My favorites were “Say the Names” by Elizabeth Acevedo and “A Me-Shaped Box” by Olivia Gatwood. The illustrations reminded me of Raina Telgemeier’s and Victoria Jamieson’s graphic novels, which offer near-universal appeal to kids.
Cons: I tried reading this book in one sitting, and it started to feel a bit heavy. I think the poems would be better savored and discussed one at a time.
Summary: Henry Brown’s story has been told before, probably most famously (for kids) in the Caldecott Award winning Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine. Here, the narrative is in the form of a series of six-line poems. They focus not only on Henry’s story, but on other aspects of slavery, including Nat Turner’s rebellion and the division of families, both Henry’s family of origin and later, his forced separation from his wife and children. His harrowing escape in a sealed box traveling for two days from Virginia to Philadelphia is described, as well as the almost fifty years he lived afterward. Brown published his story, The Narrative of the Life of Henry Box Brown, and created a moving panorama that he exhibited in both the U.S. and England, remaining overseas with his wife and daughter for almost 25 years. Includes a timeline of both Henry Brown’s life and other significant events that occurred during his lifetime, a bibliography, and an illustrator’s note. 40 pages; grades 4-8.
Pros: This would make an excellent companion to Henry’s Freedom Box, giving older students a chance to delve into Brown’s life a little deeper. The first-person poems are enhanced by the mixed media folk art illustrations. It would be an interesting twist in children’s literature history if this book received a Caldecott medal or honor next year.
Cons: Due to the nature of poetry, readers have to make a fair number of inferences to understand the details of Henry Brown’s life. An introductory note would have maybe made this a little simpler, as would reading this in conjunction with Ellen Levine’s book.
Summary: When Jace and his family get a new puppy, they want to give him a cute name, but the puppy informs them that he’s too deep for that. Jace gives him the name Thinker, and Thinker lives up to his new name, creating poems for all kinds of situations. Jace tells the dog that he has to be quiet in public, but sometimes Thinker can’t hold back, like when Jace takes him to school for pets’ day. Most of the poems are in Thinker’s voice, with Jace chiming in occasionally, and most are free verse, with one haiku and one rap. Includes an author’s note with some additional thoughts about poetry. 32 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: This is a fun and accessible introduction to poetry for young kids with bold, colorful collage illustrations.
Cons: The title made me think that Jace would be the narrator. The fact that Thinker could apparently talk in what otherwise appeared to be a realistic setting was a little confusing to me.
Summary: Angela Johnson’s poem and Nina Crews’ photographs follow three girls who share their dreams…which are not always enthusiastically received by others. They’ve dreamed of flying, walking over tall buildings, and swimming deep in the ocean, but some people tell them to keep their feet on the ground and be like everyone else. They persist, though, dressing up and leading a parade of girls through the streets and to the ocean, because “a girl like me should always be thinking way up high and making everything better than the dream”. The last two pages include thumbnail photos of all the girls who appear in the book, sharing what they like and what their dreams are. 32 pages; grades K-4.
Pros: Nina Crews’s intriguing photo collage illustrations really bring this poem to life, making it a perfect companion to Seeing Into Tomorrow, the book of poems by Richard Wright that she illustrated with photos featuring boys. The last two pages make a nice discussion starter to talk about hopes and dreams for the future.
Cons: I didn’t quite get this book the first time I read it, and had to go back and read it more carefully, with special attention to the illustrations.
Summary: From “acceptance” and “ally” to “yes” and “zest”, Latham and Waters take readers through an alphabet of words designed to make them think about how to make the world a better place. Each page features a poem about the word, a personal anecdote written by one of the authors, an appropriate quote, and a definition of the poetic form used. There’s also a “Try It!” suggestion for an activity that focuses on the concept. Includes a note from the authors; materials referenced in the quotes; additional recommended books; poetry resources; and an index of poetic forms. 120 pages; grades 3-7.
Pros: The team that brought you Can I Touch Your Hair? has created a beautifully illustrated book that could be used to teach poetry or to begin a discussion on any of the words. The anecdotes and “Try It!” suggestions could lead to some writing activities.
Cons: I wasn’t super excited to read a book entitled Dictionary for a Better World; seems like the authors or editors could have thought of a title with a little more zing.
Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Released August 4)
Thanks to Atheneum for providing me with a digital copy of this book to review.
Summary: As she did in Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science, Jeannine Atkins has created biographical novels-in-verse about seven women who used math to excel in their chosen careers. She starts with Caroline Herschel (1750-1948), who helped her brother William (discoverer of the planet Uranus); she eventually received a salary from the king of England for her work and was awarded a gold medal from the Royal Astronomical Society. Other subjects include nursing trailblazer Florence Nightingale; inventor Hertha Ayrton; undersea mapmaker Marie Tharp; sociologist Edna Lee Paisano; NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson; and astronomer Vera Rubin, the second woman to receive the Royal Astronomical Society’s gold medal (in 1996, a mere 168 years after Caroline Herschel got hers). Woven into the narratives are messages about the importance of math and of women pursuing math-related careers. Includes additional information and a selected bibliography about each subject. 320 pages; grades 5-8.
Pros: A great addition to both poetry and STEM collections, these stories are told with lyrical language and close attention to detail that brings the subjects to life. The importance of math in a wide variety of fields is emphasized, along with the struggles that each woman had making her voice heard in male-dominated fields.
Cons: This seems like it might have a limited audience; the stories may be more suitable to a class assignment than something middle school kids would pick up on their own.
Summary: A school assignment to share a collection leaves the narrator wondering what she should bring. Her classmates seem excited about their showing their arrowheads, marbles, and teddy bears, but she doesn’t collect anything. She interviews family members and friends, creating poems about each of them: her mother’s buttons, her brother’s baseball cards, an aunt’s license plates–even the mail carrier’s collection of smiling faces. The last page shows her back at school, surrounded by kids with samples of their collections on their desks. She’s not worried now, though, because she has a collection of her own–a book of poems. 32 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: A charming first poetry book for primary grade kids by the author of Fresh-Picked Poetry. Readers may be inspired to start a collection, write a poem, or do both.